Darius charmed me from page one. In Darius the Great Is Not Okay his unabashed love for Star Trek, struggles with depression, and conversations about his Persian identity.
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.
Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understand that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.
Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.
Give me a character who loves Star Trek, adores and takes tea seriously, and is honest about his struggles with depression. Enter Darius – the precious character of my heart. Seriously. The story is fantastic and it grips your hand, but Darius is the one leading us through it all. You can’t help but love his spirit, his perseverance, his journey.
I could write a whole review about how much I love Darius. About how much the ways that he rejects toxic masculinity touched my heart. About how seen I felt when he talked about tea. But seriously, there are so many things to love about him. His voice screams from the page in shouts and whispers. If these aren’t enough, Darius has some fantastic conversations about being Persian and the treatment he receives.
Darius frequently brings up jokes and ignorant comments he and his family receives for their Persian identity and features. These shake you to your core. It’s one thing to know they occur, but to feel them in your bones, to force a smile, to keep going was an entirely different experience. The ignorant comments I have received have never been this pointed. But at the same time, you can relate so much to these moments where you feel uncomfortable, ashamed, and hurt by their insensitivity.
Another topic that Darius deals with is the stigma surround mental health, but also with his Persian family and the differences. A lot of them ask him why he isn’t happy, when they find out he’s depressed. But the ways he handles it and talks about his feelings is particularly refreshing. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with this situation.
(On this note, there are other complex issues tackled in the book – like unjust imprisonment, the prejudices against those who practice the Baha’i faith, and grief. This is a book that is a joy to re-read because each time you can see or pick up another one of these topics that are dealt with in subtle nuanced ways).
And among all these topics, Darius and his father’s relationship is a big a part of the book. They don’t really see eye to eye and are dealing with their own issues. It’s a relationship that just hits you in the feels. It’s so utterly relatable. Their relationship is so complicated, tender, and emotional because they talk about mental health, parenthood, and the challenges of growing up against all these stereotypes).
(Another way that this book touched my heart is that Darius talks at one point about how people tell him that he’s returning home. But how the concept of home and where your parents come from, or even your ‘roots’ doesn’t feel like yours. It doesn’t feel like returning home. I’ve had this experience when I went to China and it kind of boggles my mind sometimes).
At the heart of the book is Darius and Sohrab’s friendship. I could have cried so many times in their relationship. It’s just a testament to the fact that true friendship isn’t necessarily about length, it’s about those experiences you can’t explain to anyone else – except them, those moments that bond you with another human being. There was something pure in the way these two lonesome souls found pieces of what they needed in each other and in their friendship.
Check out Darius the Great is Not Okay on Goodreads.